Tweeting for beginners

Twitter can open up new opportunities for promoting your school – and also your fundraising. Seasoned tweeter Helen Burge explains how to use it to your advantage

The digital anthropologist Brian Solis once commented that ‘social media is about sociology and psychology more than technology’. This should be good news for people who say they don’t engage with social media because they just don’t ‘get’ the technology or have a smart enough phone. Instead, Solis argues that ‘as an umbrella term, we should think about social media and mobile behaviour as it relates to psychology, anthropology, communication, economics, human geography, ethnography, et al. After all, everything comes down to people’.

Support network

If you were to describe yourself as a social media statistic, what would you be? An outlier with limited or zero engagement? Or a digital native with accounts across multiple platforms, for professional and personal use? Are you a planner who takes a strategic approach to what and when to tweet and retweet professionally, or do you thrive on the informality and spontaneity that social media offers? Most importantly, is Twitter working for you?

Professionally, I use social media platforms a lot, mainly Twitter and LinkedIn. My strategy is to build a network with other educational leaders – not just school business leaders and not just in the UK – in order to gain exposure to a wide variety of views and experiences. It’s my own version of ethnography! I’m also an active member of #SBLTwitter, an informal network of approximately 300 school business leaders that I use to:

  • find new ideas, inspiration and recommendations
  • receive and offer advice
  • build networks
  • access informal CPD
  • share workload (Twitter comes into its own when people highlight key points from research, DfE press releases and educational news)
  • ask questions
  • give and receive moral support and reduce feelings of isolation
  • read interesting blogs, which increase my understanding of common issues and themes
  • follow suppliers/contractors, as well as staff from other schools.

In addition, I use Twitter as a promotional tool, to post good news stories about the academies within my trust. I do this because I believe in what the academies are doing and I want to show them support by sharing their news with my network (which will have a different make-up to their own). It’s a way of building a bigger community and encouraging students, staff and parents/carers to feel pride in their academy.

Sometimes, good news stories are picked up by the local press – for example our pre-loved prom dress shop. This has a really positive impact on the students and staff involved – a great example of Solis’ idea of the importance of psychology and communication across different audiences on social media.

Twitter also offers the option of direct messaging (DM), so if you follow someone and they follow you, you can message each other. This is where lots of beneficial conversations take place away from the public eye, whether they be light-hearted rants about a bad day at the office or more serious concerns seeking support and advice about HR issues.

School tweeting

Engagement can be quick and instant among #SBLTwitter users. During lockdown, many schools increased their presence on this network to share operational as well as curriculum matters and also to learn from others about the ever-changing guidance.

If your school has increased its online presence, possibly by adding more departmental accounts, be mindful that everything posted on social media is a reflection of your school, staff and students. It might be worth reviewing your social media policy, and ensuring that it provides clarity to staff on the distinction between a personal and work account, and the tone and language appropriate to both.

You could consider creating a social media champion who can schedule posts and monitor accounts and analytics for multiple social media accounts via Hootsuite (or do the same solely for Twitter accounts using TweetDeck). This would then enable you to strategically plan good news posts and fundraising updates, as well as building anticipation for events and reaching out to potential new students or employees.

Tweet knowhow

Standardising school Twitter accounts to include school or trust branding will increase confidence in followers that the accounts are authentic and reliable. Consider:

  • a format for the Twitter handle – i.e. @FirstInitalSurnameSchoolName
  • using official staff photos for Twitter profile picture
  • a Twitter banner format (this is the image at the top of your profile)
  • a hashtag(s) for your school

Hashtags (#) are user-generated tags that help other users easily find posts with a specific theme or content. They completely lend themselves to schools that are building an online presence or want to share details of their latest fundraising initiatives, for instance #NewLibrary #MoreBooks.

Twitter accounts can also be embedded into school website pages, reducing the requirement to update Twitter and a website page at the same time. If you are interested in creating a Twitter account for your school, take a look at help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/create-twitter-account. If you are new to Twitter, some accounts to follow include @FundEd-Schools and @ISBL_news. See who they are following and who follows them – you might like to follow them too.

Issue guidance

Your school should be clear about how its communication channels are used by the wider school community. Amy Jo Martin, founder and CEO of Digital Royalty, says that social media is ‘a dialogue, not a monologue, and some people don’t understand that. Social media is more like a telephone than a television’. Make sure you issue guidance to parents and carers on how to contact the school about an issue, and encourage them not to post negative comments about the school on social media.

Managing your time

It is understandable that some people feel that there isn’t enough time in the day for them to tweet, follow and ‘like’ all the information in a Twitter feed. It can seem overwhelming, especially if you feel at odds with what you’re reading. So consider limiting your time on social media – your phone will have screen time settings to help you do so. 

Social media is about perception. Some good advice from Steven Furtick is to ‘stop comparing your behind-the-scenes with someone’s highlight reel’. Be aware that everything you see on social media is a snapshot, not the whole picture. If you find that tricky to manage, just follow a few people you trust; block or mute any that upset you. If you use social media, be active, be engaged, be relevant and be kind. Please introduce yourself to me on Twitter soon - @DeputyCOOatTPLT

  • Helen Burge is deputy chief operations officer at The Priory Learning Trust. She is a fellow of the ISBL and school resource management adviser with Cotswold Beacon Academy Trust.

 

More from Helen Burge